Friday, October 29, 2010

Halloween Haunting

I'm participating in the Halloween Haunting this year, from Theresa Milstein's Substitute Teacher's Saga. If you are looking to discover new blogs, make some new writing friends, or land a critique partner, the rules are simple:

From 10/28-11/1 go haunt Theresa's blog.

Leave a comment:

1) Tell us about your blog.
2) If you’re a writer, what genre(s) do you write?
3) Are you looking for a critique partner?
4) Did you advertise the Halloween Haunting?

Then haunt at least 3 other the blogs of at least three other commenters

I've already discovered some new blogs and I'm excited about it! Happy Haunting!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

You Are What You Read

I've been so excited about the launch of You Are What You Read. Tyler's group at Scholastic is the mastermind behind it and it's very cool.

The concept is that you pick 5 books you've read that have shaped you as an individual. That's your bookprint. Many celebrities have contributed and it's fun to discover their bookprints, as well as those of your friends. Turns out Katie Couric and I have similar bookprints. I can deal with that.

So head on over and create your bookprint! And add me as a bookmate! You know my name: Melissa Sarno.


Monday, October 25, 2010

Da Funk

I seem to be in a reading and writing funk these days.

Apparently I’m unable to sit for more than 5 minutes and read a book. I just can’t concentrate on anything! But because it’s not an option for me to just…NOT read, I decided to read a book about an 8th grader: After Ever After by Jordan Sonnenblick. It’s helping. I’m actually able to read more than one paragraph at a time. The voice is truly refreshing. I think sometimes it’s good to step outside of the comfort zone.

The writing funk is a much bigger problem. I started on a novel this summer called Here Now and I abandoned it in September to work on a short story and a writing exercise that included 3 chapters of a middle grade novel. You’re probably wondering why on earth I’m suddenly writing and reading middle grade, so I should clarify that, at this time, I’m not actually striving to write novels for this audience. But writing for kids is a big part of my day job and I like to get into it every once and a while. And, of course, my employer is the only person who pays me to write, so it occurred to me that maybe I should practice it more.

Anyway, I’m done with my random 3 chapter exercise and the short story is boring me. So, it’s time to go back to Here Now. There are a lot of things that excite me about the book. The premise. The main character. The setting. Some new friends my main character just met on the beach even. But, I dread sitting down to write it each day. The blank page is paralyzing me. And this means that when I get home I make dinner and the television goes on. And even thought I say 9pm is when I will start writing, I watch the clock slip and I do not go into my little room to write. I just…don’t.

The truth is, I can not bear to think that I’m in this one for the long haul. 80,000 words? Night after night struggling to get 1,000 words on the page? The next 2 years of my life dedicated to this beast? It sounds like absolute torture.

And I’m wondering, does this kind of thing excite a real writer? Am I not a real writer because this does not sound appealing to me? Or do some of you guys feel this way on occasion?

Sometimes, I wonder if the task of writing can get in the way of the love for it. What to do when writing feels like a chore? Please help!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Becoming a Writer

Two years ago, to the day, I began my very first writing workshop. I had taken writing classes before then, throughout college, and I did do an MFA program for screenwriting. But that day was the first day I had set out, post college and grad school life, to become a real writer.

A few months before that workshop I had decided to tell the story of a woman who went on a physical and emotional journey. I knew that the premise was: ‘people will help you discover what you’re looking for’. But that was all I knew.

Somehow, I had convinced my employer to pay for a writing workshop that year, telling the company that writing classes would help me write content at work which, of course, it would. But the decision was personal. I signed up early for a workshop at the New School, only to learn that something had gone wrong with my application and I was put on the waitlist. I showed up on the first day and the instructor said: “Stay for the class, but there’s no way you’re getting in. We’re too full.” I remember saying to him, “But you have to let me in. I need this.” What I wanted to say, in typical dramatic Melissa writer fashion was: “I will be lost without this. I will drown. At the same mediocre job. The same mediocre life.” Call it over the top but that was how I felt.

Shut out of the New School, I managed to sneak into another writing workshop at Gotham Writer’s. The class started on my birthday and I had no idea what to expect. After the 1st week, I already had people critiquing my pages. Twenty people sitting in a circle telling me what they thought. It felt like they were critiquing years of work that had sat in the drawer.

I remember those early critiques. Almost all of the people in my class thought my protagonist was insane. Like, clinically insane. I sat back and listened. I didn’t say a word. They were all excited that I was going to write from the point of view of an insane person. How exciting, they said, it’s all very Girl, Interrupted. I like how you’re not sure what’s real and what’s not. It’s so obvious that she’s completely spiraling out of control.

Interesting. Considering that I was writing from the point of view of an articulate, intelligent, logical young woman who I had intended to be perfectly sane.

Talk about missing the mark.

Since that day, I grew a lot as a writer. I gradually nailed down the voice, figured out what my story was actually about, who the characters were, and where they would end up. One would think I would have figured all of that out before I started out, but such is the writing life of a panster (i.e. someone who writes by the seat of their pants rather than plots out their story.) The people I met in that class became my writing group. I started a blog and learned about the business of publishing. I became involved in the writing community online, ‘meeting’ published and unpublished writers alike.

The day I stepped foot in that workshop I intended to become a writer. I had wanted it for a long time. And there had certainly been other steps I had taken earlier in my life that reflected that intention. But that day was different. It was the day I said, I am going to live this life. A writer’s life. How fitting, that it also happens to be the day I was born.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Brooklyn is Now

Since living in Brooklyn, I have wanted desperately to write a story that is set here. Every day, I walk past churches and old butcher shops and bakeries. I see old women chatting on the sidewalks, pushing their grocery carts. I see a lone canoe cross the polluted Gowanus Canal. I walk the boardwalk on Coney Island in the middle of winter past the grey amusement park, a place that, for me, is haunting. It whispers, we used to be something majestic…and now… I bike through Williamsburg on the Sabbath and witness a culture that is foreign, secular. A face that stares straight ahead as if to remind us, you may walk beside me but you can’t know me.

There’s so much of it that inspires. I’ve often wondered why I am paralyzed, unable to tell a story that resides here. But I am concerned about the history of a place. Preserving that history. Understanding that history. I wonder why, when it comes to real places, I am afraid to learn more. The thought of pouring through pages, digging through archives frightens me. So, imagine my awakening when I discovered that Brooklyn is then and, through time, I will come to know it. But that Brooklyn is also now. And I know now.

Photo via dailypostal

Monday, October 18, 2010

How Do You Solve A Problem Like Maria?

Some of you had inquired about my neighborhood deli, which I told you was the victim of the fire. I am pleased to announce that the deli has re-opened with renovations that include: a brand new awning, a spanking new name “The Express Grocery”, the addition of floor to ceiling windows, and bright lights that shine from the awning in an otherwise dark, and dingy corner above the Brooklyn Queens Expressway. I saw the two owners smiling as they re-stocked their shelves and I thought all was right with the world.

Of course, not every story has a happy ending. I have not yet discussed what happened at the Laundromat because it is too confusing and painful. But I’m ready to tell the story now.

I do a Wash and Fold. For those of you who may not know, this means that I drop off my laundry and someone washes it, dries it, folds it and I pick it up when it’s done. Hence the name: Wash. And. Fold. It is a ridiculous expense (About $40 - $50 a month) but I don’t care. I am proud to say that I have not done my laundry since early 2004. To be fair, I have never had a washer/dryer in my apartment OR even in my apartment building since moving to New York City. In all honesty, I have forgotten what these strange contraptions look like. I enjoy living in ignorant bliss.

But things are not all rosy, happy, snappy at the Wash and Fold on Union Street. Maria is gone. My Maria. The woman who had me singing West Side Story as I skipped to and from the Laundromat. Who greeted me each morning with an amazing smile and said, “I hope you have a beautiful day Meleesa!” Who wondered where I was when I came back with a heap full of clothes after a vacation. Who told me I worked too hard and I deserved a rest when I arrived after 8pm to pick up my laundry (but who never once complained that she had been there since early morning). Who insisted that Tyler carry the laundry because that is the ‘right’ thing to do, the ‘chivalrous’ thing. Who told me, rather cheekily, that she makes her husband do all the laundry even when she could do it where she works.

She’s just…gone.

It’s now been 4 months without Maria and I’ve finally given in to that fact that she is not coming back. I don’t know who these crazy people are at the Laundromat now. There’s someone new every single day. They have some weirdo automated machine that prints out laundry tickets and they spell my name: Mallissa. And Tyler’s name: Taillor. Despite the fact that they have the machine, the drop off now takes forever and a day. They won’t do Taillor’s shirts because they have holes in the elbows (don’t ask, the guy has knives for elbows) even when he gives them permission to do so. They sigh when I tell them what time I will be coming to pick up the laundry. They can never remember what color my laundry bag is. AND, I didn’t want to bring this up, but I feel I must. There was once a pair of foreign black underwear in my laundry bag after a pickup. Let’s just say they were not mine and leave it at that.

I’m really devastated about Maria. Not because of my laundry, but because I just thought she was a warm, generous person I enjoyed chatting with in the mornings. I’ve considered frantically calling out her name on Columbia street in Red Hook (she once told us she lives on this street). But that is a predominantly Latin neighborhood and I’m sure there are probably 500 Maria’s in the many high rises that stretch along that one street. Other than that, I haven’t come up with any other creative ideas to find her. I’ll miss her very much. As the little Von Trapp children said in The Sound of Music when Maria went back to the convent, She didn’t even say goodbye…

If you are reading this post and you happen to know where Maria is, please let me know. I need some closure. And if any of you meet anyone named Maria, anytime, anywhere, please ask her if she once worked at a Laundromat on Union Street in Brooklyn and, if she did, send her my love.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The Real Work in Progress

I am exactly one week away from turning thirty years old. This birthday has not sat well with me. Even while typing this, I feel confused about what I'm trying to say. But there is a nagging feeling that I'm just not supposed to be where I am. I am supposed to be a little farther in life. Not so stuck behind. I expected a lot to happen to me by the time I turned thirty. Unfortunately, none of it has happened. In fact, life in general, has happened a lot slower than I imagined it would.

Almost all of this has to do with my writing. Since I was a little girl, I always wanted to be a writer. And a big part of this is that I 100% planned to publish my first book by the time I was 30. But somewhere along the line, I got lost. After college, I took a strange path. One, I'm unfortunately still on. To be honest, I just don't understand how to have a career as a writer and so I'm following this endless yellow brick road to find the wizard and ask him how to get back on course.

I know that I am supposed to be happy with my accomplishments up to this point, but there is a very large part of me that is truly disappointed. I am just not the person that little girl imagined being.

The idea for Spared came about because of one line in a Bob Dylan lyric: Everybody will help you discover what you set out to find. Just the idea that people will help you find what you're looking for. Even if you don't know what it is.

I am grateful for the many people I have in my life who are helping me discover what I need. You all know who you are and I want to thank you, because you're helping me figure things out every step of the way.

Oddly enough, I am very relieved to know that my self-imposed deadline will be lifted next Wednesday. It's time for me to find a new way to be the person I intend to be.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Pages and Pages

I'm not sure how I found Kerri Arista. Somehow or another I stumbled upon her blog, or perhaps it was the other way around, and then discovered this wonderful voice. Both her blogging voice and singing voice are beautiful to listen to and I'm so glad I've come to know her through her blogging.

She recently chronicled her journey in
The 50/90 Challenge, a challenge to write 50 songs in 90 days. And her final song reminded me so much of how it feels to finish the first draft of a manuscript, I had to post the song and lyrics for all you writers out there. I think creative endeavors are not all fanciful muses, inspiration, light bulb, and unicorns. It's a lot of work. A lot of pages.

Thank you, Kerri, for letting us listen! :-)

pages and pages
by Kerri Arista

i'm gonna make it to the bitter end without becoming bitter
i'll make it to the finish mark and declare that i'm a winner
i've crossed so many milestones
i've risen from the dead
the only bags i packed were full of words inside my head
i've filled pages and pages to get to the truth
dug up memories hoping they would give me a clue
sordid little details of unimportant things
forgive me for i've included everything
i'm run down to the ground and i'm on my last leg
i will crawl in if i have to cuz i've got something to say
but it's a fight down to the finish
and there are ink stains on my hands
i've been alone with all these words about as long as i can stand
i've filled pages and pages to get to the truth
dug up memories hoping they would give me a clue
sordid little details of unimportant things
forgive me for i've included everything

Thursday, October 7, 2010

The Lost Stories

About a year and a half ago, my dear computer was on the fritz (is that a real expression? I've heard my mother use it). It had strange start-ups, often went into safe-mode, and it froze a lot. While I could still get on, I frantically took everything I had ever written in the past five years and put it on a flash drive. Just in time, because a few days later the computer officially died. I asked the IT guru at work and he told me I needed a new hard drive which, to my surprise, was not very expensive. He was also nice enough to install it and update it and everything. I basically had a brand new computer and it works to this day.

Flash forward to about six months ago. I had been knee deep in my novel for two years by that point and I was not working on anything else. Suddenly, I realized that I had never taken all of the backup files from the flash drive to put them back on to my computer. Imagine my surprise when I plugged in the little key and it said: ERROR. This can't be, I said to myself, You can't lose the backup. Who backs up a backup? That's what the backup is for.

For the past 6 months, I have enjoyed living in denial. I have plugged it back in several times since then and received the same error. I nervously giggled and politely said to my little flash drive: Oh my little flash drive, you're so silly. Your errors must be erroneous.

About two weeks ago, I decided that the flash drive's behavior was unacceptable. I downloaded a host of programs to 'reformat' the drive. And they were all unsuccessful. I took it to the geek squad and was laughed at: Sorry lady, that thing is completely toasted.

And so, I very slowly let it sink in. I have officially lost about 5 years worth of writing. Which includes three full length screenplays and at least a dozen short stories. As well as a lot of false starts that I always planned to come back to.

Alas, it is not meant to be.

I will miss the screenplays. They were not very good, but there were some good ideas there and I would very much like to read them. And I will miss the short stories. Because, my goodness, they've sat alone long enough. I thought I might like to edit them and work to get them published. But most of all, I will miss the false starts. Because I do believe they deserved a second chance.

And so, I'd like to honor some of lost stories here and now:

Baz and Andy. I hope you are well on the north shore of Long Island.

The girl who stole the piece of the old fountain. What will you do with it now?

The boy who lost the water fight who later ended up in jail. Sometimes it's hard to change true stories, even when you pretend they are fiction.

Susan who lives upstairs, who was always looking down.

The woman in France. I'm sorry that you are frozen in an unwelcome reunion with your gluttonous sister.

Leyna and the professor. My goodness I've left you two in quite a mess, haven't I?

And, mother and daughter, Anna and Claire. Two people who will forever haunt me. You're very persistent, more so than all the others. I know your story will get told.

Thank you all for getting me where I am today. Wherever that may be...

Please feel free to honor any lost stories in the comments below.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Time Travel

Yesterday, I began reading Justin Cronin's The Passage. To be honest, I don't know much about the book. I know it's been getting a lot of buzz. But the back cover description went over my head and I'm not exactly sure what kind of story I'm getting into.

So far I've only read the first 18 pages, but I was immediately struck by the pace of the novel. Those pages alone cover 6 years. 6 whole years! As I read it, I realized that what happened in those 18 pages had enough meat for an entire novel.

It made me think a lot about the way we travel through time when we write. It's hard for me to imagine covering 6 years in 18 pages. My novel, Spared, takes 77,000 words to cover roughly 14 days. One of my favorite films, Before Sunrise, covers only 12 hours. Just a moment in time.

I wonder, how many of you like novels that take on a small period of time with that kind of excruciating detail? I tend to like them. But I also found it refreshing to breeze through 6 years at such lightening speed. It tells me that I am getting into something much larger than a moment. That I am going to take a much bigger journey. That's very exciting.